Explore by bike: Wind through trails in around Chattanooga with mountains lining the horizon

photo Jose Madriz, left, and Niel Holberg ride down the Megawatt Trail on Raccoon Mountain. Madriz, who is from Miami, said he decided to visit Chattanooga after hearing about the area's reputation for great mountain biking.
photo Ashley Giles rides on a trail on Raccoon Mountain.

GLIMPSE OF THE FUTUREFor more tips that will help you find the best things to do in the Chattanooga region, pick up a copy of Glimpse, a travel guide that will be inserted into your newspaper on Aug. 30. Glimpse covers the hottest activities and best-kept secrets in nearly 100 cities across Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina and will be accessible online from TimesFreePress.com.

Whether it's pedaling over smooth asphalt or ascending on rugged off-road terrain, the Chattanooga area offers a variety of trails for bikers to enjoy while taking in breathtaking scenery. Trails range from easy, well-traveled loops to difficult with steep and gradual climbs.

Chief Ladiga Trail

The 33-mile trail in Eastern Alabama offers a smooth ride on an asphalt surface built on an old Seaboard/CSX railroad line. After miles of traveling through Talladega National Forest, where wetlands, streams, forests, farmlands and mountains line the horizon, the trail eventually connects to Georgia's Silver Comet Trail near Cedartown and Esom Hill in Georgia. Combined, both trails run 94.5 miles to Atlanta and are the longest paved trails in America.

• Chief Ladiga, on the other end, stops in north Anniston, Ala., but there are plans to extend it another seven miles into town so bicyclists can take an Amtrak train to Georgia.

• Chief Ladiga and Silver Comet trails are free to the public and paved.

Source: Silver Comet Trail web site and links www.silvercometga.com/chief-ladiga-trail/index-ladiga.shtml

Biking loops in North Carolina

Over a stretch of 37 miles, four trails, which include Right Loop Trail, Left Loop Trail, Mouse Branch Loop Trail and Thompson Loop Trail, zigzag though diverse settings. The trail system is suited for bikers who want to pedal through challenging loops. The trails, located in northeast Graham County, provide scenery, including mixed pines and hardwoods that lead to Fontana Lake.

• Certain loops are designated for mountains bikes on different days of the week. Mouse Branch (6.5 miles) and Thompson (7.7 miles) loops are designated for mountain bikers on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Right (11 miles) and Left (11.9 miles) loops are scheduled for bikers Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

• The path varies from a 1-foot-wide rugged path to flat, well-traveled roads.

• Bikers must pay a fee to use the trail system. Call the forest service office at 828-479-6431.

• The Tsali Recreation Area is named for a Cherokee man who hid in the area along with his family in 1838 when his tribe was forced to move to Oklahoma by the federal government. Tsali was convinced to surrender to authorities and he, his brother and two older sons were shot and killed in exchange for allowing other members of his tribe to remain in the mountains.

Source: Informational web site for Graham County, http://main.nc.us/graham/indexold.html

Raccoon Mountain

The intermediate trail just west of Chattanooga has been described by riders as a "stacked loop system" which offers something for all skill level of riders. Rock bluffs and great overlooks can be found all along the trail.

• The trail system is 20 miles of a single-track loop that encompasses a 528-acre reservoir near TVA's Raccoon Mountain Pumped Storage generating plant. The land is managed by TVA.

• Wildlife includes whitetailed deer, gray foxes, bald eagles and raccoons. Bikers also pedal through hardwood forests.

• TVA has a visitor center at Raccoon Mountain. The center was closed for generation construction upgrades in April and is scheduled to reopen in the fall.

Source: singletracks.com and TVA website

Fort Mountain State Park

Meander through winding trails under a canopy of hardwoods at the park near Chatsworth, Ga. Aside from mountain biking trails for intermediate to advanced riders, the park has a lakeside beach, guided horseback rides, cottages and backpacking campsites.

• The trails feature vegetation including hardwood forests and blueberry thickets. Bikers may have to cross streams.

• A total of four loops are available. The East/West Loop (14.6 miles) has rough terrain, Cool Springs Loop (seven miles) features a steep descent followed by a long ascent with rocky terrain. Gold Mine Loop (six miles) is a moderate-rated trail which includes a .75-mile public road. A 1.2-mile Lake Loop is also available for beginners.

• With the exception of the Lake Loop, there is a $3 fee to use the trails. There is also a $5 parking fee. The park opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m.

• Sometimes the trails are closed due to maintenance or weather/soil conditions. Call 706-422-1932 before going.

Source: Georgia Department of Natural Resources website

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406.